Monday, July 29, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Busting unions
It’s not about one man or one union. The rights of millions are at stake.

Christian Porter.  © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Put aside gotcha politics for a moment. One of the most substantial debates in parliament this week is over the government’s union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill, which will further erode the rights of millions of working Australians. Unfortunately the discussion is being framed in terms of whether or not to support one union, the CFMMEU, along with its rogue Victorian branch secretary, John Setka. Crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie, whose vote will be decisive, made that explicit over the weekend: if Setka stays she’ll back the bill. It is an almighty distraction. The right to strike has already been degraded, in breach of International Labour Organisation conventions, and now freedom of association and the right to organise is at stake. As Nine Publishing reported this morning, under the government’s bill, employers in conflict with unions would potentially be able to apply to the Federal Court to get a union official disqualified or a union deregistered. 

An analysis for the ACTU found the bill contained “a variety of sweeping powers to interfere in and curtail the exercise of trade union rights”, with almost no comparable legislation in other industrialised democracies. While the reforms were ostensibly aimed at addressing serious issues of crime and misconduct, there was “little or no connection [between these ills] and the measures proposed to address them”. In summary, the submission argued, trade union officials should be elected by and accountable to the members. Fraud and serious crime should be dealt with under the criminal law. The right to freedom of association should not be subject to a public interest test – registration should be a formality. If we are not careful, the paper warned, Australia will end up with the most draconian industrial framework in the developed world, comparable with the regimes in repressive dictatorships which are “aimed at wholly undermining workers’ rights to organise freely and independently of the state”.

In Question Time this afternoon, the attorney-general and industrial relations minister, Christian Porter, spelled out that there was an existing power to deregister organisations like unions in the Corporations Act 2001 but it had never been successfully applied, unlike the power to wind up companies. The amended grounds for deregistration, he said, were to allow it where the organisations failed to conduct the affairs in the interest of members, or where there have been multiple breaches of the law by a substantial number of the members, or where there have been serious breaches of the criminal law by the organisation itself. “Seems very reasonable,” said Porter, before throwing it back at the Opposition: “They are the standards that Labor now oppose.”

The point, however, is that the government’s bill will make it easier for the minister, rival unions or employers to commence expensive deregistration proceedings. As the analysis for the ACTU concludes: “Permitting judicial proceedings leading to administrative restrictions on a trade union’s functions, which may be initiated by employers’ organisations or anti-union actors, is an invitation for abuse of workers’ fundamental rights.” Who is going to have more money to tie unions up in litigation, industry or workers? 

Labor has already flagged it will stand firm against this one, as government business manager Tony Burke told RN Drive’s Patricia Karvelas last week. Powerbroker senator Rex Patrick has signalled a willingness to amend the legislation, and a statement from his office this afternoon said Centre Alliance was “working constructively with Government to come up with sensible legislation that does not treat unions in a manner that is different to corporations”. The Ensuring Integrity Bill is headed for an upper house inquiry, to report by October, but as things stand the case for sweeping reform has not been made.

“There were ministers that approached the agency – approached me personally – indicating that Crown, and subsequently the junket operators that worked with Crown, weren’t receiving a facilitated service for private jets coming into Australia – into Perth and Melbourne – and were seeking arrangements which ‘smoothed out’ the processes there a little.”

Former Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg tells last night’s 60 Minutes that two ministers and one sitting MP pressured his department on behalf of Crown.

“I’m not crying in my beer because there are thousands, thousands doing it much tougher than me … It’s not that I’m not getting money it’s just that it’s spread so thin … it’s just a great exercise in humility going from deputy prime minister to watching every dollar you get … So the big thrill of the day, to be honest, is a cup of coffee. We rarely if ever go out for dinner. You’re very mindful of what’s coming up in the next couple of weeks and try to make sure I don’t miss any payments.”

Former Nationals leader now backbencher Barnaby Joyce, on a salary of at least $211,000, explaining his newfound empathy for those on Newstart.

Ending domestic violence
Australia is ahead of the world in some of its responses to domestic violence. But its national plan has no measurable targets and is focused on attitudes rather than deaths. Jess Hill on what could be done differently, and done now.

The estimated fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from one of the three giant liquified natural gas projects based at Gladstone, Queensland, as a proportion of total gas production, according to the CSIRO after a five year study. The figure is lower than expected.

“They’re capturing a huge number of eyeballs [and substantial revenue] in the Australian market … From a competition perspective if you have businesses which are essentially competing for the eyeballs of Australians and delivering video content, the question the ACCC is asking is ‘why is it that there are one set of regulations delivered to one set of businesses but not to another set of businesses?’”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher flags the possibility of subjecting Netflix to the same local content regime as free-to-air broadcasters.

The list

“When results were first released at a climate modelling workshop in March this year, a flurry of panicked emails from my IPCC colleagues flooded my inbox. What if the models are right? Has the Earth already crossed some kind of tipping point? Are we experiencing abrupt climate change right now?”

“By all accounts, accounting firm EY (Ernst & Young) was gleeful when it secured Christopher Pyne in his first role after politics. According to a partner at a rival firm, EY’s joy at the appointment was well known in the sector. ‘They boasted they had the keys to the filing drawer,’ said the sector source.”

“People used to sing songs and write poems about Gundagai. A wartime prime minister ate steak and eggs in the kitchen of a local cafe. A dog sat famously on a tuckerbox five miles from here (as a bronze statue, commemorating … well, I never did understand the significance of that dog).”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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